Returning Pa. prisoners to state will save $20M

    The 2,121 Pennsylvania inmates now housed in Virginia and Michigan will return to the commonwealth by the end of the year, according to Gov. Tom Corbett’s pick for Corrections secretary.

    Pennsylvania’s prison population leveled off in 2010, after a spike due in part to Gov. Ed Rendell’s 2008 parole moratorium. Numbers have dropped enough that acting Corrections Secretary John Wetzel said he plans on bringing those prisoners back to Pennsylvania. He told members of the House Appropriations Committee the move will save $20 million.

    “And that $20 million is a net. So it includes the increased cost of staffing some of the module units we were talking about earlier, so we can house people now,” he said.

    Pennsylvania pays Michigan and Virginia $62 a day for every inmate. That’s more than $131,000 a day total, or $920,000 a week. Wetzel said the total is much more expensive than housing them at Pennsylvania facilities.

    “For instance, for us to open up a housing unit, there’s a ramp-up cost and there’s an initial cost. When we get that housing unit to about 90 percent, we’re not paying – if we lose 10 inmates or gain 10 inmates – we’re not paying dollar for dollar for every one of those inmates,” said Wetzel. “Whereas when we send them out of state we pay dollar for dollar, and we also pay dollar for dollar for their medical.”

    The commonwealth houses a bit more than 51,000 total prisoners. Corbett wants to increase Corrections funding from $1.7 billion to $1.9 billion in this year’s budget.

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